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IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

Children in the care of the Nottinghamshire Councils Investigation Report

C.3: Residential care

Introduction

6. For the purposes of this report, we use ‘children’s homes’ or ‘residential care’ to refer to all residential children’s homes, including observation and assessment centres.[1]

7. In England, around 40 percent of children in care in the mid-1970s were placed in residential care.[2] Numbers have continued to decline over the last 40 years, with 11 percent of all children in care in England in residential care by 2018.[3] The capacity of a children’s home also reduced over time, from more than 10 in 1985 to fewer than seven by 1995. By 2016 the average was four.[4] The age of those placed in residential care has progressively increased, so that by 2012 most children were over the age of 12.[5] From the 1980s, children in residential care tended to be older (over 10 years old). The policy was to place younger children in foster care.[6] These national trends are reflected in Nottinghamshire.[7]

8. In his report for the Inquiry,[8] Professor David Berridge identified a number of related themes in the development of residential care in England, including:

  • the stigma of being in care and the perception that children are in residential care somehow due to their own fault;
  • residential care within children’s services receiving less attention than it requires and its deficiencies remaining unaddressed for too long”;
  • the professional and social isolation of residential care workers, with a lack of professional development resulting in “outdated, insensitive or harmful practices”;
  • “very often, local government oversight of residential homes has been inadequate” and external oversight only gradually introduced; and
  • the concentration of particularly vulnerable groups of older children and adolescents previously neglected and physically or sexually abused for “predatory men”.[9]

These themes are apparent throughout the Councils’ residential care provision, including at Beechwood.

Developments in residential care in the County and the City

9. Residential care provision by the Councils suffered from persistent problems over the years, including low staffing ratios, lack of qualifications and training, poor standards of accommodation, inadequate resources and insufficient external supervision.[10]

10. A 1975 report from the County’s children’s social care service found that children’s homes offered low levels of supervision and support to mostly “untrained” staff, who were in turn isolated. There were more children in residential care than there were beds. High numbers in care were said to be due to a “low level of preventative work”. Social workers did not have sufficient contact with children in children’s homes because they believed that children were “safe” once they were in care. Recommendations included training for residential care staff, and increased funding for both residential care and for preventative work.[11]

11. There were more than 200 unused places in County children’s homes by 1983. To reflect this fall in placements, an overall reduction in the number of residential places was proposed, including closing some homes and replacing them with specialist homes. The aim was to improve the quality of residential care by having fewer children in each home,[12] providing a more effective service for those placed.[13]

12. By 1990, the County was “in the middle of a crisis in residential care”. There was high staff turnover, an increasing use of temporary staff due to recruitment difficulties, low levels of qualified staff and low staff morale. The contraction of the residential sector had led to the grouping together of children with serious problems.[14] David White (the County’s Director of Social Services from 1989 to 1994) considered that by this point residential care had been operating at an unacceptable level for some time. The County was putting its “most vulnerable youngsters in the hands of those perhaps least qualified and able to care for them”.[15] Denis Watkins (the County’s Assistant Director of Social Services in the late 1980s and early 1990s) said that in the late 1980s the County aimed to have 10 percent of residential staff trained, demonstrating its “dire starting point”.[16]

13. Around this time there was an increasing understanding and awareness across England and Wales of the risks of sexual abuse committed by residential care staff. This was first acknowledged in national guidance Working Together in 1988,[17] followed by more detailed guidance in 1991 to accompany the Children Act 1989[18] and in a national review of residential care in 1991 by Sir William Utting.[19]

14. With anxiety growing among councillors, senior officers and residential care staff that existing provision of residential care was “failing to measure up to the demands being placed upon them”, the County established a Residential Child Care Working Party[20] to review the County’s residential care.[21] It produced a report in May 1992, ‘As if they were our own’: Raising the Quality of Residential Child Care in Nottinghamshire,[22] which concluded that the County’s residential care was of an “unacceptable standard” and that some young people faced “the prospect of violence and sexual abuse within our care”.[23] If the risk of children being sexually abused by residential care staff had not been apparent to the County’s children’s social care service from earlier disciplinary cases, it should have been as a result of this report.[24]

15. The report made 79 recommendations.[25] A team was formed in January 1993 to implement the recommendations.[26] By March 1993 police checks before recruiting staff and procedures for complaints and reporting abuse were in place.[27] However, in January 1994, financial constraints were thought “likely to impact on the developments in residential care” being introduced. Despite this, plans were put in place to restructure community homes, including reducing the number of residential placements, increasing staffing ratios, and increasing investment in substitute family care.[28] A number of homes were closed by December 1994 and resources reinvested into “residential and alternative care”.[29]

16. From 1998, when responsibility for residential care was divided between the Councils, the City introduced its own designated training programme for those working with children, including child protection training.[30] Between 1999 and 2001, a new training programme for staff in County children’s homes was introduced, including for working with children who had been sexually abused.[31]

17. Both the County and the City made efforts in the early 2000s to “create a culture” that encouraged children in residential care to raise concerns,[32] including a complaints process, an advocacy service, social worker visits, councillor rota visits,[33] as well as the appointment of independent visitors.[34] However, take-up of the complaints process was low, as noted by the Social Services Inspectorate (SSI):

“A number of young people we met said that they did not bother to complain, ‘as it didn’t get you anywhere’ and ‘nothing happened’. There was no evidence to confirm this was an accurate reflection of the situation but it is clearly a perception that the council will need to address.”[35]

18. The City introduced a multi-agency placement panel by 2011 to consider the needs of children before placement and to keep placements under review.[36] Residential care had also been reconfigured to ‘small group’ homes in the City,[37] leading to better outcomes for children in residential care.[38] A serious case review in 2011 (following the suicide of a 15-year-old in the care of the City, discussed in Part E) recommended a programme to address deficiencies in the “identification, assessment and management of cases where there is emotional abuse, sexual abuse”. The “key priority for change” was to strengthen processes for children in care, including identification and management of safeguarding concerns, and profiling of high-risk children to ensure appropriate levels of support.[39] In November 2011, the City introduced a Children in Care Profiling Tool to identify the most vulnerable children in care.[40]

19. By 2015, the County had implemented quality standards for children’s homes with improved levels of staff training, including mandatory training on child sexual exploitation.[41]

References

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